A team of South Korean scientists has developed a much faster way of creating embryonic stem cells that for the first time genetically match sick or injured patients. Although many hail the news as a significant advance, critics point out that embryos are being destroyed.
Last year, the same scientists were the first group to clone a human embryo. The report shows that their efficiency in creating stem cells has increased tenfold since then, according to the Associated Press.
Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Ptitsburgh, who acted as an adviser to the Korean scientists, said that he had not expected such quick advancement "for decades, let alone within a year." The report is being released on Friday in the publication Science.
Scientists in support of embryonic stem cell research hope that this rapid way of creating stem cells will eventually help to regenerate human tissue that will eventually help in treating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes in addition to helping repair spinal cord injuries.
Opponents say embryonic stem cell research is unethical and should be banned because human life begins at conception and should not be destroyed.
In a statement, the executive director of the Christian Medical Association, Dr. David Stevens, M.D., criticised some scientists and reporters for "misleading" the public by not pointing out that the research being carried out is "not merely ‘cloning cells,'" but that "they are cloning living human beings and destroying them for their stem cells."
He added, "Each one of us began life as a human embryo. If you had been sacrificed for your stem cells at that point of development, you wouldn’t exist today."
However, one of the doctors who worked on the project says that no embryos were used in order to obtain stem cells. He says that a "nuclear transfer construct" is used instead.
"I think this construct is not an embryo," said Dr. Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University. "There is no fertilization in our process. We use nuclear transfer technology. I can say this result is not an embryo but a nuclear transfer construct."
To obtain the stem cells, the researchers took DNA from skin cells of 11 male and female patients from ages 2 to 56 who had spinal cord injuries, diabetes or congenital immune disease.
The patients’ cells were then inserted into donated eggs, which had their nucleus removed. Through a chemical charge, the egg began to divide into early stage embryos called blastocysts. From the blastocysts, the scientists harvested the stem cells, which matched the original donor’s skin cells, according to AP.